This post contains information on things to do in Pasadena, California. It includes a top ten list, free, family-friendly, and evening activities. For even more ideas of things to do while you’re in the LA area, check out our Things to do in LA post.
TOP TEN THINGS TO DO IN PASADENA
This section covers our top ten things to do in Pasadena. Whenever possible, we’ve noted kid-friendly and free activities.
Visit the Huntington Library (kid-friendly)
More than just a library, the Huntington includes an extensive art collection and botanical gardens as well. Once the estate of the railroad tycoon, Henry Edwards Huntington, the sprawling property has a number of gardens to explore, an excellent display of European and American artwork, and a world renowned research library. Within the library, visitors can see an original Gutenberg Bible, the manuscript of Canterbury Tales, folio editions of Shakespeare, and much more. The Huntington is open everyday except Tuesdays from 10am-5pm. Check the calendar for holiday closures; ticket prices vary.
Tip: Consider purchasing a LA Go Card, which features the Huntington Library as an attraction option!
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (kid-friendly)
Science enthusiasts will geek-out with a trip to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This world-leading research facility is known for its innovation in creating and overseeing robotic space and Earth science missions--it’s where the Mars Rover was created, after all! Visitors can tour the facility (reservations must be made well in advance) or attend a monthly lecture series for free.
Visit the Rose Bowl (kid-friendly)
The actual Rose Bowl game is considered to be the “Granddaddy” of college football games but the venue itself offers much more than just the annual sporting event. Opened in 1922, this historic stadium has a lot to offer! Take a public tour of the stadium (held on the last Friday of each month at 10:30am and 12:30pm), watch a UCLA football game, attend one of the many concerts or events the stadium hosts throughout the year, or spend a day strolling through hundreds of vendors at the ever-popular monthly flea market held at the venue.
Read more about the Rose Bowl parade for information on where to watch and how to see the floats up close.
Explore Old Pasadena (kid-friendly)
Stretching for a number of city blocks through Colorado Boulevard and surrounding streets, Old Pasadena is a abuzz with a variety of shops and restaurants. This lively atmosphere takes the old town charm of Pasadena and connects it with modern businesses. Grab a coffee, stroll through speciality shops, or enjoy an evening at one of the many eateries.
Tour the Gamble House (kid-friendly)
Considered to be the best example of American Arts & Crafts style architecture, the Gamble House was built by the Greene Brothers in 1908 for David and Mary Gamble of the Proctor and Gamble Company. The House is a National Historic Landmark and one-hour docent led tours are offered throughout the week. Times and ticket prices vary.
Visit the Norton Simon Museum (kid-friendly)
This art museum in the heart of Pasadena is home to one of the world’s most incredible private art collections. For over 30 years, Norton Simon (of Hunts Foods) amassed a remarkable collection of European and South & Southeast Asian pieces dating back 2,000 years. Highlights of the museum include works by Van Gogh, Degas, Raphael, Renoir, Rodin, and Picasso among others. Take time to also enjoy the outdoor sculpture garden and cafe. The museum is closed on Tuesdays.
Head up to Mount Wilson Observatory (kid-friendly)
Drive up highway 2 to the top of Mount Wilson and explore the Mount Wilson Observatory that sits high above Pasadena at 5715 feet. View the historic Hooker 100-inch telescope from the Visitors Gallery inside the dome or take a weekend guided tour (beginning at 1pm). Also enjoy the Astronomical Museum and Cosmic Cafe. Check the calendar for additional special events.
Enjoy the Dining Scene (kid-friendly)
Pasadena is home to a number of vibrant eateries offering an assortment of cuisines. Old Pasadena favorites include La Grande Orange Cafe (they offer lovely outdoor seating as well), Russell’s (go for breakfast!), True Food Kitchen, and Great Maple. No matter the time of day, you are bound to find something that suits your taste-buds!
Shop Popular Stores and Antique Malls (kid-friendly)
There are a large number of name brand stores that line Colorado Boulevard and the surrounds in Old Pasadena. You could easily spend a few hours shopping in that area. However, Pasadena is also home to a variety of antique shops and malls. For those who enjoy wandering among vintage goods, antique furniture, and more, check out establishments like the Pasadena Antique Mall, Pasadena Antique Center & Annex, and Pasadena Antique Warehouse.
Visit Cal-Tech (kid-friendly)
World renowned for its research in natural science and engineering, the California Institute of Technology resides centrally located in Pasadena. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a student at this private university to explore the campus! Enjoy a self-guided tour of the stimulating campus grounds (free guides are available at the Admissions Office or downloaded here) or join a guided architectural tour that is given on the fourth Thursday of each month at 10:30am.
ADDITIONAL MUSEUMS & ATTRACTIONS
Pasadena is home to a variety of popular museums and cultural attractions. Some of them like the Norton Simon Art Museum, The Huntington Library, and Gamble House we’ve listed in our top ten section. Here are some additional attractions to check out while you’re in Pasadena.
The historic and beautiful Pasadena Playhouse offers a number of stage performances throughout the year. Opened in 1924, the 686-seat community theatre features a number of local performing arts groups and has seen notable alumni like Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, and Ariana Grande grace its stage.
USC Pacific Asia Museum (kid-friendly)
Operated by the University of Southern California, the Pacific Asia Museum is the only university driven museum in the country that is dedicated to the art of Asia and the Pacific Islands. The museum’s 15,000 piece collection spans all of Asia and the Pacific Islands and dates back 5,000 years. Visitors will enjoy Japanese folk art paintings, Chinese ceramics textiles, and Buddhist art among many other items. Hours and admission prices vary. Tip: visit on Thursdays from 5pm-8pm or on the second Sunday of each month for free admission!
Pasadena Museum of History
Dedicated to the history, art, and culture of historic Pasadena. Part of the grounds include the Fenyes Mansion which has furnishings that date back to 1905. Tours of the mansion give visitors a glimpse at “millionaires row” of Pasadena during the early 20th Century. Additionally, enjoy rotating exhibits and visit the Finnish Folk Art Museum that is also a part of the property just off the Fenyes Gardens.
Armory Center for the Arts (kid-friendly)
This free, non-profit arts center is the LA region’s leader for offering contemporary art exhibits to its visitors. In addition to the rotating exhibits, the center offers a number of public programs, performances, and screenings. Visit the gallery from 12pm-5pm daily (except Tuesdays and holidays). Donations are appreciated yet not required.
THINGS TO DO IN THE EVENING IN PASADENA
There are plenty of options to keep you entertained during an evening in Pasadena! Some of the items we’ve mentioned like seeing a performance at the Pasadena Playhouse or exploring Old Pasadena are great night time activities. Here are a few more ideas.
First Fridays at Norton Simon (kid-friendly)
On the first Friday of each month, the Norton Simon Museum offers free admission from 5pm-8pm. Visitors can stroll through the numerous galleries, enjoy the outdoor sculpture garden as the sun sets, and linger over a beverage (including beer and wine) at the museum’s cafe. This makes for a lovely evening for people of all ages!
Spend an Evening at Paseo Colorado (kid-friendly)
Located in the heart of Old Pasadena, Paseo Colorado is an outdoor mixed-used mall that features a handful of shops, eateries, and the Pasadena Antique Mall. Additionally, there is an ArcLight movie cinema and often other events taking place in the mall’s large courtyard. It’s a one-stop shop for an evening full of fun!
Have a Pint (kid-friendly)
One of the top five Belgian Beer Bars in the country and one of LA’s oldest British Pubs, Lucky Baldwin’s is a family-friendly environment that serves a full menu and also has an incredible selection of Europeans and Belgian beers on tap. Stop in for a pint or a full on British meal!
FREE THINGS TO DO IN PASADENA
Pasadena offers a variety of free events and activities. Some attractions and events we’ve mentioned like “first Fridays” at the Norton Simon Museum and touring Cal-Tech are free of charge. Here are a few more ideas for free activities.
Be sure to look at our master post on the Free Things to Do in LA.
Arlington Gardens (kid-friendly)
This quiet, three-acre public garden is open to all ages and showcases a large quantity of different California native plants and flowers. Additionally, it exists as a home for many of California’s native fauna and a variety of birds, bees, and butterflies can be seen throughout the space. It’s a beautiful place to relax and soak in the sun. The garden is open every day of the week during daylight hours.
Visit Vroman’s Bookstore (kid-friendly)
For book lovers, a trip to Vroman’s, the oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California, is well worth it! Wander through rows and rows of books or delight in the gift and home decor sections. A large children’s area resides on the second floor and a free children’s storytime is offered Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10am. Cap off your visit with a hot beverage from their coffee shop (available for purchase).
Jackie & Mack Robinson Memorial and Pasadena City Hall (kid-friendly)
The first African-American to play in Major League Baseball (and his brother, Mack) was a Pasadena native. Outside the historic Pasadena City Hall sit two larger-than-life sculptures of the heads of both Jackie and Mack Robinson. City Hall is also worth a visit! Known for its Spanish Colonial architecture, it opened in 1927 and was part of the City Beautiful movement of the 1920s. Parks and Rec fans might recognize the building as “Pawnee City Hall.”
FAMILY-FRIENDLY THINGS TO DO IN PASADENA
Unequivocally, Pasadena is one of the most family-friendly cities in the LA area. You can’t go far without finding something that is fun for all ages. Some of the items we’ve listed like visiting the Huntington Library or attending a children’s storytime at Vroman’s Bookstore are great for the whole family. Here are a few more kid-friendly activities.
Visit the Kidspace Children’s Museum
Located adjacent to the Rose Bowl, the Kidspace Children’s Museum is fun for kids up to the age of 10. The sprawling indoor/outdoor complex has an early education room designed for children ages 0-3 and offers a number of other exhibits for older children including some water-based activities. Everything is hands-on and learn-through-experience based.
Explore the Area Children’s Playgrounds
You can hardly see much of Pasadena without running into a children’s playground! Local favorites include Reese’s Retreat, the pirate themed playground at Brookside Park, and the playgrounds at Central Park and Singer Park.
Play Games at Neon Retro Arcade
Fun for kids and their arcade-game loving parents, Neon Retro Arcade offers dozens of retro games, many from the 80s and 90s. Enjoy over 50 classic video games, pinball machines, and a few modern games as well! Admission costs $10/hour or $25 for an all-day pass.
The highlight of Pasadena’s seasonal activities is undoubtedly the world famous Rose Parade but there are a variety of annual events throughout the calendar year. Here, we’ve listed some of the best events by season.
ArtNight Pasadena (kid-friendly)
A semi-annual event, ArtNight Pasadena, is a free night full of art and cultural fun. Most of Pasadena’s cultural institutions open their doors to the public and feature a special exhibit or activity and some of them will even have food trucks on hand. Don’t miss the free shuttles that you can take from location to location. This event draws nearly 30,000 people and repeats in October!
Old Pasadena Summer Cinema (kid-friendly)
Bring a lawn blanket or chair and enjoy a free outdoor movie under the stars. Old Pasadena Summer Cinema features a variety of film genres throughout the summer that welcome people of all ages. The screenings are held in historic Central Park among other locations. Enjoy a picnic before the show! Films usually begin around 8:30pm.
The Rose Parade and Bowl (kid-friendly)
The time honored Tournament of Roses Parade takes place each year on January 1st through the streets of Pasadena. This New Year’s tradition features dozens of parade floats, marching bands, and other performers and draws hundreds of thousands of spectators. Following the parade is the Rose Bowl game, also known as the “Granddaddy” of college bowl games. An exciting day for anyone in Pasadena, you must plan ahead if you’d like to attend either event, as tickets and spaces are limited.
Castle Green Holiday Home Tour
Now on the National Register of Historic Places, Castle Green is celebrating 120 years of history. What was once the Hotel Green--a winter hideaway for the rich from the Midwest and East--is now a private residence. Once a year, it opens a handful of its historic rooms for a self-guided tour.
ArtNight Pasadena (kid-friendly)
A semi-annual event, ArtNight Pasadena, is a free night full of art and cultural fun. Most of Pasadena’s cultural institutions open their doors to the public and feature a special exhibit or activity and some of them will even have food trucks on hand. Don’t miss the free shuttles that you can take from location to location. This event draws nearly 30,000 people and repeats in March!
UCLA at the Rose Bowl (kid-friendly)
The Rose Bowl Stadium hosts many events throughout the year but it is also the home stadium to the UCLA college football team. Cheer on the UCLA Bruins at this historic stadium during one of their many home games of the season!
Pasadena ArtWalk (kid-friendly)
Usually occurring in October, Pasadena ArtWalk is a free art show and sale that also features art on display throughout a number of businesses throughout the community as well as live entertainment, activities, food, and free & reduced museum admission. This is an event that is welcoming and fun for all ages!